Historic 'friendship' store opens doors to cultural exchange in New York

Historic 'friendship' store opens doors to cultural exchange in New York

Pearl River Mart 1
The Pearl River Mart was established in 1971, at a time when relations between the US and China were frosty. (Photo: Laura Cantekin)

NEW YORK: In 1971, amid simmering Cold War tensions between the US and China, Ming Yi Chen, who arrived in the US from Taiwan, decided to embark on a bold idea which he believed would spur cultural understanding between the countries.

As an active participant in the Chinatown community in New York, he set about trying to break barriers through a "friendship" store in the city, offering goods from Asia, including paper slippers, soy sauce and communist-style caps imported from China.

The idea behind Pearl River Mart became a reality that lasts till today.

Together, the Chens, a husband-wife team, have run Pearl River Mart as a kind of embassy, bringing in shipments of goods from Asia for the past 45 years.

Their daughter-in-law, Joanne Kwong, wanted to continue the legacy and took over in 2016.

She is now presiding over the seventh iteration of the store back in the heart of Chinatown, after battling ever-increasing rent prices.

Pearl River Mart 2
The Pearl River Mart "friendship" has been bringing in shipments of goods from Asia for the past 45 years. (Photo: Laura Cantekin)

The sentiment behind the story stays the same.

"It really started to integrate Asian culture, Chinese culture into the fabric of America and especially New York City - in this day and age you don’t have to introduce Asian culture, Chinese culture, to New Yorkers but it remains a community space that is a point of pride for Asian Americans and it’s also a space that represents New York," Kwong said.

An assortment of pan-Asian memorabilia from the practical to the playful adorns this emporium with ceramics, paper lanterns, posters, games and apparel.

New York is also an ideal location for a "friendship" store, Joanne said.

"There still is need for this cross-cultural joy and New York is just an example to the world where people co-habitate and work and create side by side, and they create amazing things because of each other, because of that interaction with each other."

Pearl River Mart
An assortment of pan-Asian memorabilia like ceramics, paper lanterns, posters, games and apparel can be found at the Pearl River Mart. (Photo: Laura Cantekin)

But the brick-and-mortar establishment has also modernised.

Fans of Pearl River Mart can now buy goods online and even subscribe to a box of handpicked favourites delivered each month.

The Pearl River Mart family has plans to expand to other cities hoping that the store can serve as a cultural bridge across the US.

Source: CNA/mn

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